I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
My speech is being circulated along with a briefing note on the Bill which I have made available to Deputies. I am very pleased to bring the Bill before the House. The Bill is short and technical but very important. It completes a series of amendments to the Companies Act 2014 that will enable simplified procedures for all companies meeting their annual filing obligations. The Bill has been through the Seanad.
Companies can have a maximum of nine months after the financial year end to prepare an annual return and the associated financial information. There is currently a two-step procedure for a company in filing an annual return with the Companies Registration Office. First, the company must file the annual return 28 days after its filing deadline, and second, a further 28 days are allowed to complete its filing by uploading its financial statements and submitting a completed signature page.
The Bill will amend section 343(2) and 343(3) of the 2014 Act to amalgamate the two-step process into a one-step 56-day period to complete the process. In this way companies will have more time to file their annual returns. There will also be fewer procedures in filing, delivering a more efficient system that makes it even easier for companies to meet their filing deadlines. Public filing by companies is an essential protection for other companies, suppliers and employees that rely on this meaningful financial information as being as up to date as possible. We must make the filing of annual returns and financial statements as straightforward as possible for companies. The law already allows companies up to 11 months to prepare and file financial statements. In 2017 we legislated to simplify and reduce the content of those financial statements for small and micro-sized companies. This year the Companies Registration Office is upgrading its IT system to make it even easier for all companies to file on time by moving to a process that can be done in a single step and entirely online. The amendment contained in this Bill is the last piece of the legislative framework to support this simplified process. The early enactment of the Bill will allow time for the CRO to make companies aware of the new procedures in advance of the IT upgrade.
This is a modern and practical measure that represents good common sense. I commend the Bill to the House.